On Hearing News of Death

In Gorakhpur, India, seventy children have died since August 7th in the neo-natal and encephalitis wards of a medical college hospital due to a lack of oxygen cylinders. The suppliers had stopped the supplies on account of outstanding dues from the government-controlled hospital. The health minister in the U.P. government, which is headed by the saffron fascist Yogi Adityanath, says children often die in August, and that they died not due to the lack of oxygen cylinders but due to the factors that caused the condition.

This poem by the Hindi poet Amitabh underscores our helplessness in reading such news and our privilege in ignoring the sorts of tragedies that only occur to the poor and the sick.

Translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell

Even after hearing news of thirty or sixty or three hundred children dying
I don’t do much of anything at all, just close my eyes for a little while

I think about what I was doing just a short while before I heard the news
I recall a girl with innumerable desires
whom I had sent a poem wallowing in doom and gloom

A few moments later I think of my departed wife
her lungs slowly shriveled by some unknown disease
for whom I purchased and brought home an oxygen cylinder

I remember how the last time my daughter came to see me
she was looking for that cylinder but couldn’t find it
She was a bit sad and said, Oh well
I’ll buy a new one for my clinic

My eyes remain closed and the impact of the news takes me
to those thousands of hungry naked mentally physically disabled and dying children whom I
had seen in the villages of Darbhanga Samastipur Sitamarhi Madhubani Saharsa Supaul

I remember migrant laborers and their wives
numbly telling stories—without any gloom or doom—
of the deaths of children
I remember the helpless faces of women
seated in dark desolate huts holding babies burning with fever

Bad memories slowly pull me from the orbit of bad news
Soon it will rain and I remember that my clothes had been hung outside to dry

In the end I am pleased to see that the gardener, Shatrughan Malik,
has completely weeded all the flower pots
I think tomorrow I will ask him
How many of your children have died and how many are still alive?




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Amitabh Written by:

Amitabh is a poet based in Darbhanga, Bihar

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